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After Sea Pines Montessori Academy's board of directors decided to add a middle school class this year, staff members had to convert a primary school classroom to accommodate middle schoolers, and they ended up with a lot of materials they no longer needed.
Rather than selling the extra supplies on eBay or at a yard sale for pennies on the dollar, school administrators decided to do something much more significant with them.
"As Montessorians, we strongly believe that peace can only be achieved through education," Head of School Darcie D. Patrick wrote in a note to The Island Packet. "Community service is embedded into our curriculum, so this was an extension of our yearlong outreach."
A member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island, Patrick contacted her church's rector, the Rev. Greg Kronz, asking him if he knew of any schools -- locally or globally -- that could use the materials. He said he didn't know of any, but a week later he called her back after receiving an e-mail from someone in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in Africa, saying there was a school there looking for a better way to teach their students.
Meanwhile, Alice Nalugwa, the headmistress of St. Augustine Primary School in Dar es Salaam, was praying for a miracle. Her teachers had just been given a demonstration on the use of manipulative learning materials, such as those used in Montessori classrooms around the world.
Most of the materials the teachers took to Tanzania were sensorial in nature, meaning they help children develop their five senses. Children can learn from the size, shape, texture, sound and weight of objects. Some of the items they took were beads for counting, concrete alphabet letters and objects that start with each letter of the alphabet, and knobbed cylinders to prepare children for writing.
After the demonstration, Nalugwa and her teachers, whose classrooms don't have much more than wooden desks and a chalkboard, knew they could teach the children so much more if they had better tools. The teachers asked Nalugwa how they could get these hands-on materials, and she told them to start praying.
So when a team of missionaries and teachers from South Carolina showed up a couple of months later at St. Augustine Primary School with Montessori materials in hand, the Tanzanian teachers thought they were just being given another demonstration. They told the teachers, Anne Hinely and Lauren Kelley -- both from Sea Pines Montessori -- that they could not afford the materials.
But when the Americans told them the materials were for them to keep and would cost them nothing, the African teachers were ecstatic.
"(Nalugwa) said, 'And you just brought us everything we were praying for,'<2009>" Kelley said, adding that the words gave her chills and quieted the room for a moment.
The two Montessori teachers were among a group of 12 Lowcountry residents, including members of St. Luke's, who traveled at different times in August to Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzaniais was the church's fourth trip to Tanzania, where Kronz trains clergy members. Other team members did missionary and medical work at a clinic, while the SPMA teachers went for educational purposes rather than religious ones. The teachers spent their time showing the African teachers how to use the Montessori materials.
The team from South Carolina also fixed up the classrooms by putting in linoleum floors to replace the dirty cement floors, allowing the children to get down on their hands and knees and play with the new learning materials they had been given.
"It was really exciting to watch," St. Luke's deacon the Rev. Kathie Phillips said. "It was wonderful the way God worked it all."